Press and Propaganda
The smallpox epidemic began in Victoria in March 1862, when a white man brought the disease from San Francisco. Although his case was "not considered a dangerous one,"2 the smallpox eventually spread to other people in Victoria.
There were many Natives in and around Victoria. The Songhees lived on nearby a reserve. Many others came from the north to trade and work. Because Natives had not learned to deal with smallpox, they were particularly susceptible to its ravages. The Colonist articles show a definite double standard. When colonists contract smallpox, it was treated as a regrettable occurrence; when Natives are affected, it was seen to be a result of their "filthy habits."
26 March 1862, p. 2.
We call the attention of the authorities to the fact that small pox has been introduced into this country from San Francisco. The cases may be few. But few as they are, they are dangerous; and as the harboring of such a disease is to injure this place, stop people from coming here, and endanger the lives of our citizens, we hope prompt measures will be taken to prevent it from spreading. The most stringent regulations ought to be enforced, and enforced without a momentís delay. If a case occurs the parties ought to be placed beyond the reach of communicating the infection to others. Imagine for a moment what a fearful calamity it would be, were the horde of Indians on the outskirts of the town to take the disease. Their filthy habits would only perpetuate the evil; keep it alive in the community, sacrificing the lives of all classes. We have no wish to be an alarmist; but we believe there is danger, and great danger if the small-pox be allowed to spread through the neglect of the authorities. So much for the few cases noted already. But in reference to preventing its introduction from abroad, all vessels--steamers included--from San Francisco ought to be forced to render a clean bill of health before landing their passengers. If such be neglected, we fear that a serious evil will be entailed on the country.